About midway through the closure of one of the city's two auto inspection stations, officials say the open station in Southwest has been busy but has been able to handle the load.

On Oct. 5, the 48-year-old station at 1827 West Virginia Ave. NE closed for a $500,000 renovation, expected to last until February. The city's Department of Public Works extended the hours of the Southwest station at 1001 Half St. to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays, and promised to keep all four inspection lanes open until the Northeast station is reopened.

Since the closing of the Northeast station, Larry Greenberg, director of the District's motor vehicle services, said that business has been unwavering but not unmanageable.

"I'm very, very proud of our people and the way things are going," said Greenberg, explaining that the Northeast staff has moved over to Southwest, giving that station 54 employes. "The key is to keep four lanes up and running, and we think we can handle it."

Greenberg said that the Southwest station's lines are consistently long early in the day. But, he said, the crowd shrinks noticeably from 3 to 6 p.m. From 6 to 7 p.m. it gets busier, but from 8 p.m. until closing at 10 p.m., lines dwindle, he said. Saturdays generally stay very busy, he said.

The Southwest station, built in the 1960s, will not need to close in the foreseeable future, Greenberg said. The older Northeast station had received piecemeal repairs for years, but finally required a complete overhaul, including new walls, floors, offices, plumbing and wiring.

"Since 1939, cars have changed, too," said Jim Nance, deputy director of motor vehicle services. A new computer will enable the inspector to give motorists specific reports on brake problems, Nance said. In addition, the Northeast's station's new car lifts will handle the axles of four- or front- wheel drive vehicles safely.

"One important thing -- we're improving the ventilation," Greenberg said. "That not only helps the motorists, it helps the staff. When you get these 100-degree summer days, and stagnant air in there -- it's a difficult job they have."

When both stations operate, each inspects about 650 vehicles in a 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. workday, Greenberg said.

Although the closure has doubled the daily inspections at the Southwest station, Greenberg pointed out that under the modified schedule, the city offers 83 hours of inspection per week at Southwest, compared with the usual 40 hours per week at each station.

Under city regulations, private autos must be inspected yearly, and are subject to a $50 fine for expired stickers. Any car that fails inspection is given a red rejection sticker and the option of being reinspected at the city's stations or at 50 private garages authorized by the Public Works Department. City inspectors put a list of the reinspection stations in all cars that fail.

Only about 10 percent of motorists who fail the first inspection use the reinspection stations, which charge a "nominal" fee, Greenberg said.

Frederick Couzzens, who failed because of a barely audible horn on his low-slung black Mercedes-Benz, said he preferred waiting in line at the Southwest station to paying the $10 charged by one reinspection garage. Couzzens, who is retired, drove from his Northwest home, draped his newspaper neatly across his steering wheel and proceeded a few feet every few minutes.

Greenberg urged that car owners avoid certain failure by checking their lights, turn signals, high beams, horn and brake lights -- and having them fixed -- before coming to the station.

The line of inspection-bound drivers, distinguishable from traffic by glum looks, turned-off engines and "December 1987" or "rejected" stickers, stretched three blocks on Monday morning.

Yeyeh Koroma used the time to shine his black and yellow Washington Cab taxi. "Those guys are very, very strict, especially with cabs," said Koroma, critically eying the gleam on his rear bumper.

A dozen cars ahead, Pernell Brown sat patiently in mint condition 1964 Volkswagen Beetle, optimistic of a passing grade. Last week, after arriving at 9:30 a.m. and waiting three hours, Brown received a red diamond of rejection because of a loose wheel.

Time passed slowly for Nancy Aadland, whose registration notice arrived in Saturday's mail, just a few days before the due dates for registration and inspection. Aadland said that on Sunday night, while trying to locate the inspection station, she found that "the address isn't even in the phone book."

Aadland, who eventually received directions to the Southwest station by calling friends, said that the city should provide a recorded message giving the stations' locations and hours of operation.

"I called both of them last night, and there's no indication {the Northeast station} is out of service," she said. "I could have just as easily gone there."